HEBER — Heber Elementary School District (HESD) announced it will close down its two school sites as a result of rising cases of COVID-19 in a letter sent to parents on Wednesday, Jan. 12. Dogwood Elementary and Heber School will be closed for one week and are scheduled to resume classes Jan. 24. 

“As you are aware, we are experiencing a severe staff shortage and an increase of COVID positive cases. Currently, we have 24 classrooms in quarantine status, over 100 staff and students who have tested positive for COVID, and more than 300 student absences per day,” said HESD Superintendent Juan Cruz in a letter to parents. 

Cruz revealed the district consulted with the Imperial County Office of Education, Imperial County Public Health Department, and the California departments of Public Health and Education to implement the school closures. 

“We recognize that this decision may disrupt current household routines and place additional stress on our families. However, we remind you that we place a high value on the health and safety of our children, our staff, and our community,” said Cruz. 

Cruz said there were two primary factors for temporarily closing the schools — staff shortages and the safety of the students, staff, and their families. Cruz said their district was hit with a post-holiday surge of COVID that infected too many people. 

“Upon our return from the holiday break, we experienced an unseen surge and continued rise in COVID-positive cases in both our student and staff population,” said Cruz. “This led to staff shortages in all of our areas of operation.”

Cruz said the entire faculty is on the same page that the safety for the school community must take priority. 

“It is my belief that they are aware of our concern for their health as well as that of our students,” said Cruz. “Our district has worked closely with our labor group leaders, and we collaborated in reaching this decision.” 

When asked of the possibility that school would be out for a longer period of time than what was already announced, Cruz was adamant classes would resume in one week. 

“We will reopen on the 24th,” said Cruz. “This allows for staff and students that are in required quarantine to get well and allow us to resume ‘normal’ operations.” 

Simon Canalez, superintendent of Brawley Union High School District (BUHS), confirmed his district had also seen a notable decline in attendance since the return from the holiday break. 

“We are definitely seeing an uptick of all around absences related to the current surge of COVID-19 locally,” said Canalez. “On-campus testing for symptomatic students is being provided to attempt to limit additional exposures. Staff have been proactive about testing when symptomatic and that has mitigated additional exposures.” 

Canalez said they will continue to follow quarantine guidelines from the Imperial County Department of Public Health but are not considering closures at the moment. 

“We have no intention of closing any schools within the district,” said Canalez. “We will carefully monitor the current situation and make necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of our students and staff.” 

Central Union High School District (CUHSD) announced on its website on the same day Heber made its decision that they will not be closing their schools. 

“We are aware that some school districts locally, in California and around the country are closing temporarily due to staffing shortages. At Central Union High School District, we will remain open at this time. As an organization, we are able to cover our staff absences with substitutes, administrators, counselors, and other staff. With the recent changes to the quarantine period being shorter, some staff have tested negative and returned sooner than expected,” the website announcement read. 

CUHSD Superintendent Ward Andrus said they have managed staff shortages with help from all of their faculty covering for absent teachers. 

“In high schools, staff are able to cover classes for others during their prep period,” said Andrus. “So far we have had enough substitutes, counselors, administrators, directors, and even the assistant superintendent, and myself have covered classes that needed a teacher in recent days.” 

While Andrus confirmed a school closure similar to Heber’s was not under consideration, he did not altogether dismiss the possibility of a closure. 

“We are not considering it at present, though the thought remains running in the background,” said Andrus. “We are hoping and praying we do not have to close like Heber decided they needed to.” 

Though HESD is the only district that has officially announced temporary closure so far, others have opted to temporarily go back to the virtual setting. San Diego State University, Imperial Valley campus announced they would move to a virtual setting for the start of the upcoming semester. The announcement said for the first two weeks of the spring semester, Jan. 19 through Friday, Feb. 4, instruction will be virtual due in most cases due to the post-holiday spike in Omicron variant infections.

Interim Superintendent and President of Imperial Valley College (IVC) Dr. Lennon Johnson said they are monitoring the COVID-19 surge closely and have put a plan in place to reduce the number of employees on campus. Dr. Johnson said the plan will minimize close and prolonged contact while maintaining “appropriate” on-campus support during normal business hours.

“There are no changes in the class schedule or modality planned at this time,” said Johnson. “For the winter intersession, many of our classes are online, and for the classes offered on site, instructors have the flexibility to move into a larger classroom if one is available. It is important to note that the winter intersession is an abridged term, and most students are still on winter break, the spring semester starts February 14.” 

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